Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Monetary Lapse Of Reason

Yonason Rosenblum has a good article about helping Jewish schools cope with their financial burden. In short, he proposes a voluntary community “tax”, or fund, if you will, that would be evenly distributed between the local schools. Unfortunately, he leaves all too many variables out of the equation. This system worked well in the Windy City, where the community is by far not as large as in Brooklyn, Lakewood and Monsey. He also forgets that unlike Chicago, -home to more wealthy people and less schools-, in the aforementioned towns the ratio is vice-versa.

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz tells us that we should deal with the challenge of Internet as small business owners facing a Wal-Mart arriving in Town. The hands-on details are to follow, he reassures us, and I am eagerly awaiting them.
Maybe lost on many of his readers, his comparison is a tongue-in-cheek joke on an actual Wal-Mart arriving straight to the heart of Monsey’s frum –mostly Hassidic- business district. The controversy has been dealt with upon the pages of Pinchy Salzberger’s rag, as well as a blog originating from Chic-ago. They both missed the point –or willfully distorted it- by saying that Hassidim oppose Wal-Mart because it would have a negative influence on their children, meaning the semi-pornographic celeb magazines at the check-out desks or the un-tsniusdik dolls in the store.

But they couldn’t have been more wrong. Many Hassidim shop in the Airmont Wal-Mart (two miles down the road from the controversial Wal-Mart in question). As they shop for “Bratz” dolls galore and other highlights of Western Civilisation, they don’t seem to be bothered by the mags, nor the fact that their young children stare at them. So what takeh motivates the Hassidim to join their dreaded enemies, Preserve Ramapo, in opposing the Monsey Wal-Mart? The simple fact is that it threatens many hassid-owned businesses, from groceries to toy stores.

Internet access for children is a totally different story. I’m not sure how it compares to a big business coming to town threatening small businesses. And perhaps the Internet raises a question of a much more global proportions: how to relate with Western civilization? So far, in my humble opinion, most approaches have, even if not outright failed, proved rather ineffective. The Hassidic emptiness has left real Judaism out of the picture, and absorbed the lowest of Western culture in an external frame of traditional garb and superficialities. Modern Orthodoxy has successfully integrated itself in left-wing intelligentsia while its adherents either leave the “Orthodox” or the “Modern”. The Yeshivish world is still somehow clinging on to Torah, albeit steeped in a little more oilom hazeh from Uncle Sam than they’d like to admit.

Now that the seven-headed dragon comes into our homes via his world wide web, we are forced to face reality – something we haven’t adequately done. Pasteur observed peasant women scratch off their cows’ pox and rub it on their children to immunize them. It is still a more a gut feeling of mine, rather than an opinion, that we could adopt a similar approach. The devil lies in the details, and the actual carrying out of the plan is not done as easily as said.

Ditto for the Rosenblum initiative that worked so well in Chicago. In all honesty, I doubt it would work in any Judeopolis at all. Who would contribute to a common school fund? The food-stamp father marrying off his ninth child, supporting another eight in collel, the MO actuary making $100K and having a budget of $300K, or the ‘gvir’ who donates millions to all the big mosdos anyway? And does anyone honestly believe that groups antagonistic to one another will gladly throw their money in the hat? Something tells me otherwise.

Hassidic groups are very protective, their money stays within the community, and teachers are basically paid by government subsidies and school freebies (free school and camp for a few kids – that’s not so little). Other schools are also secretive as to owners’ salaries and who gets tuition breaks and how much. I heard of a case when a parent offered to pay full tuition for his children (three, if memory serves) plus one extra as donation – on condition that the school opens the books. They refused.

I’m not sure there’s a magic solution to ease the burden on schools and tuition. A public school kid costs 11 to 18K, and the level of education is practically zero. Private schools achieve much more with much less, that’s unquestionable. But the voucher program wouldn’t be fair either. Orthodox Jewish families with numerous children would drain the state treasury faster than you could say “property tax”. But a little more openness and less exclusiveness from the schools would probably be of some help.

Perhaps if the spectator sport of schnorring and overall tolerating detrimental behaviors that breed poverty is successfully toned down, than schools could reach out to wealthy people outside their immediate constituency for support.

© Joseph Izrael 2007

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